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Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Johnny Damon ready for all of his responsibilities

PORT CHARLOTTE — LF Johnny Damon is willing to be a salesman for the Rays organization, especially given the attendance clauses in his contract, as well as a sage and a mentor to some of his younger teammates.

More important, the Rays need him to be a key part of their lineup.

The Orlando-area resident reported to camp Friday morning saying he was eager to take on all facets of his new gig, already feeling at home with what he considers his home team.

"I feel like I've been their teammate for a while, and it's only been a couple weeks. These guys have come to accept me and embrace me, and it's my job to go out there and play the game that I know how," Damon said.

"I feel like everywhere I've gone, people have looked up to me the way that I've played, the leadership qualities that I do bring. It was more evident in Detroit last year. There were so many young kids, they picked my brain a lot, and I gave them a lot of knowledge, and I'm still cool with that.

"But I also want to play and succeed. This was a great team before Manny (Ramirez) and I got here, and with the additions of a few more guys here, it could be interesting."

Manager Joe Maddon is excited about everything Damon, 37, brings.

"I just think he's the kind of guy that really fits in well quickly, and I'm really looking forward to having him here," Maddon said. "He's exactly what we needed: that kind of a player with that kind of experience and veteranship, and that could still play at a very high level."

Maddon said he still hadn't decided if Damon would hit leadoff or elsewhere and probably wouldn't until at least partway through the exhibition season.

HELLICKSON UPDATE: RHP Jeremy Hellickson was kept off the field and will likely skip today's scheduled bullpen session due to what the team is now calling a "mild strain" of his right hamstring.

Maddon said the move with the scheduled No. 5 starter was precautionary after he first felt tightness while stretching before Thursday's workout.

"I'm not concerned as of right now," Maddon said. "It sounds as though he's going to be fine, but we've just got to be very careful right now."

HOME BOY: 1B Casey Kotchman had an easy drive from his St. Petersburg-area home to Port Charlotte to join the early reporters.

It's heading back to St. Petersburg with the team at the end of the spring that will be more of a challenge as he tries to win a roster spot after signing a minor-league deal.

Kotchman said he hadn't thought much about the competition with projected starter Dan Johnson, felt good about getting his batting stroke "cleaned up" after hitting .217 with Seattle last season and is eager for the opportunity.

"I'm just pressing toward the future, and I'm excited what this year will bring," he said.

Kotchman, who was dropped by the Mariners after the season, said he had offers from several teams but thought the Rays were the best option: "I just wanted to pick the best fit, or what I felt was the best fit."

EXTRA HAND: INF/OF Joe Inglett was signed to a minor-league deal and will report to camp in the next few days. Inglett, 32, is a left-handed hitter who has played second base, third base and all three outfield spots (and pitched once) during parts of five seasons in the majors with the Indians, Jays and, most recently, Brewers. He also played first base and shortstop in the minors. With Inglett, the Rays have 62 players on the camp roster.

MISCELLANY: RHP Juan Cruz, delayed by visa issues in his native Dominican Republic, is expected this weekend. … The other four position players who had yet to report in advance of Monday's first full-squad workout were: INF/OF Ben Zobrist, INF Elliot Johnson and nonroster INFs Daniel Mayora and Ray Olmedo.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Johnny Damon, taking batting practice during his first workout, says he wants to play well and be a veteran leader.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Johnny Damon, taking batting practice during his first workout, says he wants to play well and be a veteran leader.

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Johnny Damon ready for all of his responsibilities 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 10:24pm]
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